BAXTER — A question of policy regarding when the flag at city hall can be flown at half-staff brought up overall council member protocol when interacting with staff.
This particular issue appeared to start with an email from Council member Jim Klein to a city staff member. In his email Klein, raised an issue he previously brought up, the lowering of the flags at city hall when Gov. Mark Dayton makes a proclamation. Klein said the governor is only able to order flags lowered on state buildings. Klein said he wasn’t against flying the flags at half-staff but it should be done at the direction of the mayor. Klein received a reply from a staff member that the flags were lowered in observance of Minnesota firefighters who have given their lives in the line of duty, in line with the governor’s proclamation. Tuesday during council comments, Klein brought the issue up saying the governor has no authority to order the city to lower its flags.
“First of all, I hesitate to say this, I thought your email was a little harsh,” Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said.
Olson acknowledged it is a local call. When the governor makes a proclamation, Olson said out of respect as the reason is typically worthwhile, they’ve lowered the flags. Olson said he hasn’t lost any sleep over the issue but apparently Klein has as he came in after the email and brought the issue up to staff again. Olson said he didn’t think it was that big of an issue, but the city should to define its policy on the matter so employees don’t receive emails in the future.
Council member Todd Holman supported following the governor’s decree as a policy for the city.
“Just because the governor doesn’t have any control over us, I don’t know that that necessarily is not a good thing to do,” Olson said of honoring the firefighters.
Klein said he didn’t care whether the council decided to follow the governor’s call or go with the mayor, but there should be a policy. Olson said policy should be followed before comments are made to staff members, too. The council voted to follow the governor’s proclamation.
“This flag issue brings up a point when the council has issues with an employee and their actions it should not be our place to go to that employee,” Council member Mark Cross said. “It should be our place to talk to the city administrator. If we need to have a policy on this, it should be common sense because it has a lot to do with HR (human resources).”
Cross said the council didn’t want to get in the middle of an HR issue.
“I think we need to think about how we go about communicating our dissatisfaction. It should go straight to the city administrator, not the employee, or we’ll find ourselves in a situation we don’t want to be in.”
Klein said: “I wasn’t disrespectful. I asked her a question. That’s it. I was not defaming her. I wasn’t accusing her.”
Olson said Klein’s comment to the employee was in the vein of ‘who in the world do you think you are.’” But Olson said this wasn’t the place for the conversation. Cross disagreed.
“Well it is,” Cross said. “We do not tell employees what to do as the council, that’s up to their supervisor, that’s up to the city administrator. We set policy. And we have our staff implement policy. We don’t get in the middle.”
“There apparently was no policy,” Klein said. “Now there is a policy.”
Cross again said Klein should have contacted the city administrator. Klein said Administrator Gordon Heitke wasn’t around, to which Cross said Heitke is always available by phone. Klein then said he didn’t want to disturb Heitke while he was on vacation.
“I’m just looking out for the good of the city,” Cross said.
“So am I,” Klein replied.